From milk to beer: dairy family switches to hops
Erica and Les Goodman live on a stunning Adirondack foothill near Fort Ann, that happen's to be Erica's childhood home. The valley below is just starting to turn green, and the Green Mountains are hazy in the distance.
Right now, the field around there house is just grass and brush, but pretty soon, it’ll be covered by towering hops.
"When I dream about it," says Erica, "I’m dreaming of different types of beer we’ll be brewing based on different family history involved."
Erica’s 28-years-old. She grew up in Fort Ann, and lives in Washington D.C. now. She’s blonde, a runner, and little taller than her Dad, Les.
The Goodman's have been farming here since 1853. When Les was growing up, he and his three brothers learned dairying from their dad, milking 300 cows.
Les became an elementary school teacher, but helped his brothers with the farm for years. Now they’re older – and they’re ready to get out of the dairy business.
"It’s a lot of work being on a dairy farm. We used to start milkin’ at 4 o’clock in the morning so you could get done at a halfway decent time so you could spend time with your family. It’s 12-14 hour days," says Les.
The brothers don’t want the next generation to work those same long hours. They’ve put the farm up for sale, which will pay for their retirement.
Keeping it in the family
Erica works for the American Farmland Trust down in Washington. She wasn’t ready to let the long farming history go.
"Knowing that the land was going to turn over and knowing that the idea was to sell, I talked a lot to my family about what are some opportunities to do," she says. "Thought about vegetables, what’s the market for a CSA (community supported agriculture) or selling to a farmers market, or maybe it’s doing something like grass-fed beef; something that’s less intensive than milking twice a day and having a dairy farm but can keep the land active."
After a lot of research, Erica settled on hops. She noticed the rise of craft breweries.
And last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo convened a wine, beer, and spirits summit supporting New York state-produced drinks. There's also a quota for use of locally-produced ingredients that's set to rise to 90 percent by 2025.
So Erica pitched the idea to her family.
"I didn’t know what to think at first," Les said. "But Erica’s very persistent too, you gotta remember that. Her goal, which I really believe in, she wants to keep some of it still in the family since it’s been in our family for 160 years. You would like a little piece of the heaven that’s here."
Erica and Les decided to try growing hops on half-an-acre right near the house.
But they needed started-up money. So Erica decided to try crowd-funding from the internet.
"Having friends who’ve had books they’ve put together or CDs come out, and getting those requests from crowd-funding sites across the way," she says, "I thought it would be an interesting opportunity and looked into it to see if other farms were doing it."
She set up a site and made a video, hoping to raise $10,000.
"I kind of put the $10,000 down knowing the cost of really setting up a hop yard are pretty pricey from the start, and thinking this is going to be a tough goal to reach," says Erica. "But it’s really pulled in people from the woodwork of my life."
At the time of this interview a few weeks ago, Erica had raised $7,800. The campaign closed last week and they’d surpassed their goal, cashing in $10,593.
And they’ve found a market. Adirondack Pub and Brewery in Lake George has agreed to buy their hops.
A half acre doesn’t sound like much, but hops grow up to 30 feet high, so, this is a strong start.
"It’s been very exciting to see the support behind this, but it has also been a little terrifying because that raises your expectations, I think," Erica says with a smile. "When I go in saying I just wanna do something on the land and keep it in the family that’s one thing. It’s going to be a huge businesses that’s gonna reap large profits for the family is another thing."
"I’m always proud of her but I’m also nervous," Les adds. "She knows I get nervous about stuff like this. I can see her getting a machine to make the pellets or to roast the hops. We have all the buildings here where we could set these things up and it would be a nice thing, but you have to go one step at a time."
For now, they’re happy to be keep working a little bit of the land while the rest of the farm is up for sale.
"Being able to preserve the family history and to have this be my contribution to the family and what they’ve worked so hard for here for so many years and so many generations – It might be scary but it’s a risk I’m ready to jump into and ready to be a part of," Erica says.
As the weather warms up, Erica will make more and more trips up from D.C.
She and Les will be building trellises and planting hops. They’ll harvest the plants next fall – and Good Manor Farm will move from milk to beer.